Blizzard in March? This kid doesn’t mind.
Did you know you can just, like…make bagels? YOU CAN. And I will be, from now on, unless we can get them from Brooklyn (on a visit, or friends visiting us…slice and freeze!). Thank you, again, to King Arthur Flour.
Here’s the KAF recipe for bagels that I used. I used two packets of active dry yeast instead of the instant yeast they call for, and I used brown sugar instead of the malt stuff, and I added a teaspoon of baking soda to the boiling water, on the advice of a baker friend. They turned out much better than expected! I will be making them again.
What came first, the dress or the fabric?
I had thought about making a little toddler pinafore dress and even found a guide and got fabric, but then things happened and – as the great S. Morgenstern says – what with one thing and another, three years passed (okay, one and a half years). Then, when I was at Fabric Corner looking for some simple navy jersey fabric for the back of a shirt (another project conceived long ago and only carried out recently), I found this irresistible flamingo print on a pale blue background, and decided to make a simple toddler dress, using more or less the same style as the shirt I was making for myself.
Like the shirt, I used a dress that she already had to get an approximate idea of the cut and the size. Then I cut out the back and sewed a seam all the way around; cut out the front and sewed a seam all the way around; and then sewed the two pieces (right side to right side) together at the shoulders and sides (remembering to leave arm holes this time, unlike with the shirt I’d just made. Sigh). Turned it right side out and voila! It hung on a hanger for two days until I could get her to try it on. At which point she spun around till she was dizzy, and I realized I needed to make the arm holes much smaller. But it should be good for this summer!
Takeaways for next time: Use a pattern! Even a homemade, paper pattern, so the front and back pieces are symmetrical and match up. I skipped this step because it’s a kid dress that she’s going to grow out of in one year – two at most – and it was kind of a practice thing (I am getting better at sewing with stretchy jersey – it’s much harder than plain cotton/cotton linen). But, it’s still worth it to do it properly.
Note: Started this post mid-January, and all I wrote at the time was “So. Much. Maisy.” The single-minded devotion to Maisy has waned somewhat, and we have a solid rotation of more diverse favorites now, as well as new books from the library on a weekly (sometimes daily) basis.
The Maisy books by Lucy Cousins are certainly a hit in toddler-land, though they’re not most grown-ups’ favorites. However, they’ve got a familiar cast of characters, and the “new experiences” series does its job, though I would much rather read Jabari Jumps than Maisy Goes Swimming.
I briefly shuffled one of her bookshelves around to pack most of the favorites into one shot.
- 13 Words by Lemony Snicket and Maira Kalman, otherwise known as “the bird book.” Pair with Fancy Nancy’s Favorite Fancy Words and hope for the best.
- One Woolly Wombat by Rod Trinca and Kerry Argent, my own copy from childhood. A counting book (it goes to fourteen) featuring Australian animals.
- A Kiss Like This by Mary Murphy, a sweet read for bedtime or anytime.
- Sometimes I Forget You’re A Robot by Sam Brown, the guy behind explodingdog.com, one of the first websites I remember ever visiting. The illustrations look like they were done in MS Paint but they have so much heart. Beep!
- Bark, George! by Jules Feiffer is endlessly hilarious. Kids get to identify animals and make their respective sounds, and grown-ups can appreciate the expressions on George’s mom’s face.
- Oliver and His Alligator by Paul Schmid, a gentle, sea-green tale about a timid boy’s first day of school. Munch, munch!
- Little Elliot, Big City by Mike Curato was gifted to us by a friend, and it’s a perfect length and tone for quiet time at the end of the day. The illustrations are lush and old-timey, and feeling small in a big world is a familiar feeling to most kids, even if they aren’t a polka-dotted elephant. (I know there are more Little Elliot books but I haven’t read them yet…I’m afraid they won’t be as good.)
- The Adventures of Beekle by Dan Santat has grown on me with many readings, and now I think I could watch Beekle and Alice find each other every night forever. (An imaginary friend goes in search of the person who’s supposed to dream him up.)
- Julia’s House for Lost Creatures by Ben Hatke was another gift from a friend, and THANK YOU. This is one of our all-time favorites, down to the record the troll plays in Julia’s attic (the middle is red, so it must be “Twist and Shout”).
- Sleep Tight Farm we have read less lately, but we read it a lot in late fall and early winter. A nice bedtime read, and easy to abridge as you go if the little one’s attention span doesn’t stretch to all the text. Really lovely.
- A Greyhound, A Groundhog by Emily Jenkins and Chris Appelhans is a real softball since we have a greyhound (though, to my knowledge, she’s never seen a groundhog) and loved Chris Appelhans’ illustrations for Jenny Offill’s Sparky! The poem is not as much of a tongue-twister as it seems and the illustrations are so good I sometimes contemplate cutting them out of the book and framing them.
- Where, Bear? by Sophy Henn was another gift (we have generous, book-loving friends). It’s short and sweet, and we like Henn’s Pom Pom Panda Gets the Grumps too.
- You and Me, Little Bear was yet another gift, and another good bedtime book, as Big Bear and Little Bear do their chores before playtime.
- Goodnight Everyone by Chris Haughton doesn’t quite have the humor of his other books (e.g. Oh No, George!), and if you can read it without yawning, I’d be impressed (not because it’s boring, but because all of the animals get tired and yawn in turn). After several readings, I noticed that you can follow a little piece of dandelion fluff through the second half of the book and up into the stars. The endpapers are beautiful too, with pictures of the Northern and Southern night sky constellations.
- Hooray for Hat by Brian Won will cheer up anyone who’s grumpy! Some illustrations are done across a double-page-spread in a portrait orientation, so you have to turn the book 90 degrees. Hooray for Today is great too: Owl wants to play with her friends, but they’re asleep when she’s awake, and vice versa.
- Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn was one we read a lot in the fall. Pak’s illustrations evoke the changing seasons in a gorgeous, understated way.
- Nanette’s Baguette by Mo Willems – there is more beyond Pigeon and Elephant & Piggie! This is a super fun read-aloud with a unique illustration style.
- The Circus Ship has a lovely rhyme scheme and a rather ingenious page spread where all fifteen animals are cleverly camouflaged. She’s just become really interested in this one.
- Harry the Dirty Dog is a classic.
- Surf’s Up! has grown on me a bit, and she’s requested it a lot lately. I like the bright yellows and blues, and of course it’s nice to see a “dude” who would rather read than go surfing, but it isn’t my favorite read-aloud.
- City Moon (not pictured, but we checked it out from the library so often that I ended up buying it recently) is a really perfect bedtime book: a mother takes her young child for a walk around the neighborhood between dinner and bedtime to look for the moon. (See also: Windows by Julia Denos.)
- Henry & Leo by Pamela Zagarenski is a story about how important a child’s most special toy is to them, and what is “real.”
- In the Night Kitchen and Where the Wild Things Are (not pictured because they were in the other room at the time of this photo, but beloved nonetheless)
So many of the books that have become our favorites were given to us by friends. Some I knew about, but most I’d never heard of, which just goes to show that you CAN give books to a librarian’s kid. And she’ll think you’re great!
And not permanent residents on our shelves, but frequently borrowed from the library:
- Please, Mr. Panda and I’ll Wait, Mr. Panda (but not Thank You, Mr. Panda) by Steve Antony: Mr. Panda believes in manners, baked goods, and a really good deadpan.
- Wolfie the Bunny by Amy Dyckman and Zachariah Ohora is one I initially requested because of the title, and it’s as good as it sounds, with a fun “he’s going to eat us all up!” refrain.
- Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall shows a brave little black boy who’s ready – he thinks – to jump off the diving board. His dad and sister are there to cheer him on, and his dad gives him an out even as he encourages him.
- There Might Be Lobsters fulfills the promise of its great title, as little Sukie overcomes her fear(s) to save Chunka Munka.
- School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex and Christian Robinson wasn’t a hit with her when I first brought it home, but this time around it clicked. Any book that contains the phrase “nose milk” is worth your time.
- The Way I Feel is really useful to help kids begin to identify and put names to feelings, yet it avoids being didactic…which makes me feel happy.
- Tickle Monster by Edouard Manceau: We all liked this one so much we made our own tickle monster for our flannel board.
- A Different Pond is a new and much-lauded (with good reason) story about a family of Vietnamese immigrants. I didn’t actually think she’d sit still for it, but she listened quietly several times through. Gorgeous and important.
- Toys Meet Snow by Emily Jenkins and Paul O. Zelinsky is a wonderful winter read. (How could it not be, when the co-creators of A Greyhound, A Groundhog and Z is for Moose team up?) A curious buffalo, a plush StingRay (“more poetic than factual”), and an enthusiastic and well-read rubber ball named Plastic go out to play in the first snow.
- How Do Dinosaurs…? by Jane Yolen: this whole series is a hit. How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food? is great for the dinner table, and How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? is perfect for bedtime.
What are your toddlers’ favorite picture books? Best read-aloud books? Storytime books? Please share!
I was the fortunate recipient of my old co-worker’s decluttering spree a while back, during which she got rid of her sewing table and a bunch of fabric. When the little apron my two-year-old had been wearing to help with baking projects tore, I decided to make her one, and everything I needed was on hand!
This project took about two hours start to finish, and I did it properly, pinning and ironing and changing out the thread in the machine from navy to yellow. My machine is my grandmother’s old Singer, and it still has most of its parts and pieces and – crucially – the instruction manual, which is in actual English, complete with a table of contents, step-by-step instructions, and useful diagrams. I was inordinately proud of myself for being able to change out the bobbin.
A digression: what with all the gardening, composting, bread-baking, knitting, and sewing, I feel that I’m building up some slightly more useful life skills, by which I mean skills that don’t involve Master’s degrees or the Internet. There is a conversation I’ve had with a lot of people recently, which I’ll call When It All Goes to Shit (or, as Cory Doctorow more poetically puts it, When The Lights Go Out). It’s the somewhat more grown-up version of the train of thought I used to board as a kid when I couldn’t fall asleep: What Would You Save First in a Fire? (after people and pets, of course).
But back in November, as I was putting up a display at the library about emergency preparedness, I started asking friends and family if they were prepared in any way for any of the disasters that might occur. Did they have a first aid kit, for example? Did they have all their important documents in one place? Did they have a supply of nonperishable food and bottled water? Did they have a plan for meeting up with family members if they were split up at the time of the disaster? “No,” said one friend right away. “We’re doing to die in our house.” At least she knew her plan.
The point of this digression is that, even as I build up some more useful, home-ec-type skills, I’m still pretty dependent on electricity (sewing machine, Kitchen Aid mixer) and my oven. I suppose, theoretically, I could knead bread dough by hand and bake it over a fire, or something, but it’s not like I can grow my own wheat (yet!). In short, I’m reliant on modern conveniences and gadgets and I’m not anywhere near Amish.
End digression, and back to the apron: I didn’t have a pattern, I just used the apron I already had and cut around it, except I made it much longer, planning to sew up the bottom with a basting stitch so I could let it out when the kid gets taller. In addition to the main piece, the front of the apron, I sewed a front pocket, a neck loop, and two side ribbons to tie in back.
I could have made the pocket deeper instead of wider, but I did line it up carefully so the fabric pattern matches. All in all, I’m pretty pleased with this spur-of-the-moment project. Perhaps my T-shirt quilt is next…
Winter baking continues! Bread (and more bread), scones, pancakes, cake, cookies, pizza dough, granola, and probably more I’m forgetting.
Bread: Most of my bread recipes come from King Arthur Flour, but I branched out recently and tried the potato oatmeal bread from Beth Hensperger’s The Bread Bible: 300 Favorite Recipes. It was a little more work upfront, but it makes two loaves and it came out great! I made one loaf in a 9×5 bread tin and one on a baking sheet (using a Silpat). The ingredients list calls for water, but in the text of the recipe it says milk; I used milk. I think the milk-for-water substitution was mentioned elsewhere in the book.
From King Arthur, the Oatmeal Toasting & Sandwich Bread has been a steady winner, with a good rise, nice color and flavor and texture. I’ve also liked the Vermont Maple Whole Wheat Honey Bread and the Vermont Maple Oatmeal Bread (I use the maple syrup, but not the extra maple flavoring).
My best discovery from King Arthur, though, has been the Almond Flour pancakes: they are perfect. Like most pancake batter, it’s quick to mix up a batch. I can make three at a time in our biggest skillet without them touching; they’re light-textured and airy and delicious, more filling than the average pancake (because of the nut protein?), and they keep and reheat well. The only downside is that I can’t send them to daycare with the little one, as it’s a nut-free environment. (Insert joke here.)
Pizza: The “rushed” version from Smitten Kitchen Every Day actually came out just fine, while the ATK recipe didn’t come out as well (it was still quite edible, just didn’t rise the way I thought it should).
Cake: Chocolate cake with chocolate icing: top-secret family recipe, for birthdays and weddings!
Cookies: Deb Perelman’s latest hamantaschen recipe from the book Smitten Kitchen Every Day. These didn’t come out as well as ones I’ve made previously; the dough was not quite as pliable, and liable to crack rather than bend when folded. Next time I’ll go back to one of her other hamantaschen recipes (there are lots) or my original family recipe (don’t know where it came from, but it works). Filled them with raspberry jam this year (yum) and fig (too sweet).
I also made the blondies from the America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook (a.k.a. the red binder), because I wanted chocolate chip cookie bars. They were good but I’d consider trying other recipes as well – anyone have a chocolate chip cookie bar they love?
Throughout the spring, summer, and early fall, I took pictures of flowers and plants around our neighborhood. I was gathering ideas for my own garden, but also admiring others’ arrangements with no intention of recreating them myself. In mid-January, I’m not doing much gardening – just tending to my African violets, aloe plant, and a few decidedly-not-lush-looking rosemary and thyme plants – but looking at these pictures reminds me of the bright colors that will come around again. Hat tip to Frederick (Leo Lionni).
Captions are the names and locations of plants, to the best of my ability/recollection.